The Youngbloods – Elephant Mountain

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Known primarily as a folk rock group, The Youngbloods branch out with their third album. Released in 1969 on RCA Records, Elephant Mountain shows dramatic growth from the band’s earlier efforts. Between the second and third album, Jerry Corbit, the lead guitarist and songwriter, departed the band, leaving Jesse Colin Young to take the reins as de facto leader. This personnel change combined with the physical move from New York City to Marin County, CA, led to a change in direction for The Youngbloods. Elephant Mountain incorporates a variety of sounds and styles into the band’s traditional repertoire. The Youngbloods’s folk and jug band roots are complemented with edgy blues guitar riffs, jazz-infused improvisational instrumentals and pop rock harmonies. For example, the opening riff of “Sham” is something that sounds like it could come straight off a hard blues rock album. While the song is remarkably different from most of their earlier material, it seems to fit nicely with this new identity. Also building on this new identity is the song “Smug.” This song is a psychedelic pop song that seems to come directly from the streets of 1960s San Francisco. Despite the somber title and subject matter, the song sounds happy and idyllic and uses vocal studio effects common with this bubblegum pop-style of music. Even on earlier albums, it was evident that these musicians were talented instrumentalists, but on Elephant Mountain they really show their colors. There are several instrumental songs including “On Sir Francis Drake” and “Trillium” that demonstrate the band’s jazz-infused improvisational skills. “On Sir Francis Drake” in particular seems to allow each band member room to experiment and grow, making for an extremely groovy jazz rock song that no one would expect from a folk rock group born in Greenwich Village. For those that might be thinking that The Youngbloods seem to have lost touch with their folksy roots––do not fear. The Youngbloods perform a variety of very solid tunes that would be much more likely to attract fans of their traditional music. The opening song on the album, “Darkness, Darkness” is a solid folk/bluegrass number written by Jesse Colin Young that features Charlie Daniels (of The Charlie Daniels Band fame) on the fiddle. In addition to playing fiddle on “Darkness, Darkness,” Charlie Daniels also produced this album, so there are plenty of folk/country/bluegrass tones throughout the album. “Darkness, Darkness” is particularly somber, but the style and musicianship makes for a phenomenal opening track. “Rain Song” and “Black Mountain Breakdown” are also songs that will appeal to the more folk-loving fans of The Youngbloods. “Rain Song” actually still features Jerry Corbit, as it was recorded before he left the band. Thus, the song is not unlike much of the band’s earlier works. Although the album features a lot of growth and development, it is not so far from the band’s roots as to upset fans of previous albums. The album starts with a nice layer of folk rock and then incorporates these new sounds and styles throughout the album. Old fans and new alike will find something to enjoy, although given the variety of styles, it is likely that each listener may find one or two songs they don’t prefer. When all is said and done, Elephant Mountain is a solid third album, worthy of picking up at your next visit to the record store.  B+

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy – Barbara

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First off, I need to sincerely apologize for my extended absence. We just bought a house, which has consumed much of my time over the past couple months. We are settled in, and I should resume updating this blog regularly.

Second, the following review is a follow-up review for the new Peanut Butter Conspiracy album. I typically only review studio albums on vinyl from the 60s, but I had the amazing opportunity to make an acquaintance of Alan Brackett. I decided that reviewing this CD would make a good fit for the blog. I also made every effort at an unbiased review despite making the acquaintance of Alan.

Barbara is the labor of love that Alan Brackett self-released earlier this year. After deciding to create a compilation album based around Barbara Robinson’s beautiful voice, Alan put in many years of work, trying to find the right material and means to make this project a reality. Every song on this album features Barbara on vocals, and many of them have never been released. Although many fans consider Barbara’s voice to be among the premier voices of the late 60s, Barbara never gained as much notoriety as many of her contemporaries. While most of the songs feature PBC musicians, many of the songs on this album are very different from the typical psychedelic sounds that PBC fans have come to know and love. For example, the opening song, which is actually a song from The Ashes (the precursor band to PBC) called “Roses Gone,” is reminiscent of 60s lounge music. The song has very minimal instrumental accompaniment and is mostly dominated by Barbara’s powerful and warm voice. In fact, there are several tracks on the album that tap into the easy listening style in order to highlight Barbara’s vocal capabilities. While these songs are quite different from the psychedelic rock sound that The Peanut Butter Conspiracy has become known for, they actually complement the other numbers quite well. For those who may crave something a little more rock ‘n’ roll, this album contains several gems that are more typical of the PBC catalog. One of the most quintessential PBC songs on the album is a tune called “Shuffle Tune.” This song is a great blend of folk rock, psychedelic rock and beautiful harmony. Other highlights on the album include the vocal-driven pop single “Good Feelin'” and the bluesy “Fool Hearted Woman.” Because the album is in a way an homage to Barbara, there is not a strong continuity of sound or style. While an album of eclectic sounds does demonstrate the wide-ranging abilities of the band/singer, in this case, the varying styles may be too much for more traditional PBC and/or psychedelic rock fans. However, for an album dedicated to Barbara Robinson and curated and compiled decades later, this is truly a remarkable piece of art. Each song brings something special to the album, and listeners will be left wondering why Barbara did not reach higher heights in her career. A-

Pick up the new album at The Peanut Butter Conspiracy’s website.

The Turtles – It Ain’t Me Babe

ImageFrom Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to the Grateful Dead, countless rock legends have covered Bob Dylan songs in countless different variations, so what makes The Turtles worth listening to? Well, for starters, It Ain’t Me Babe, which was released on White Whale in 1965, stays remarkably true to Dylan’s folk roots while still bringing their own rock ‘n’ roll sound to the covers. While songs like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” or Clapton’s cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” are rock classics, they feature phenomenal guitar work and are far removed from the poeticism of Bob Dylan––the same poeticism that made folk music so prominent in the early to mid sixties. The Turtles, however, seem to strike a perfect balance between the poeticism of Bob Dylan and the sweet sound of rock ‘n’ roll. For example, the album’s title track, “It Ain’t Me Babe” starts off quiet, letting the words and the tambourine do the work. However, during the chorus, Mark Volman’s voice comes crashing through the speakers like the protopunk vocals of MC5 or The Seeds. It is this same balance between the energy and ferocity of rock ‘n’ roll and the meaningfulness and heaviness of folk music that makes all of The Turtles’ Dylan covers on the album fantastic, including “Love Minus Zero” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” Although Bob Dylan was clearly a major influence on this debut album, it is hardly a Dylan cover album. The Turtles load this album with powerful tracks from the early to middle sixties. Continuing in the folk tradition, The Turtles perform impressive renditions of “Eve of Destruction” and “Let Me Be.” Both songs rival the originals and perhaps even surpass them. The Turtles also tap into their surf rock roots (they started as a surf rock cover band called The Crossfires) with the song “Your Maw Said You Cried Last Night.” This song is beautiful, fun and fast. Perhaps my favorite song on the album is also the only song written by The Turtles: “A Walk in the Sun.” This song is fast, loud, and heavy. It’s protopunk, psychedelic, and garage rock all in one. Overall, this album simply brings it. The only gripe I have (and it’s a very small gripe) is that they do not perform more original numbers. But, it’s hard to argue with their cover choices. Every song on this album is really good; some are just down right phenomenal. If you come across this album, BUY IT!  A